Disentangling risk assessment
New roles for experts and publics
in Science and the politics of openness

European and North American regulatory agencies have a statutory obligation to involve the public in risk decision-making and in recent years many have ‘opened up’ these traditionally scientific domains to public input through on-line consultations. However, these statutory obligations are not met in practice and opportunities for public involvement are not exploited to their full potential. We argue this failure is due to a considerable lack of clarity in the literature and in practice about which publics should be involved in risk assessment and at what point they should participate. To remedy this situation, we draw on theoretical, empirical and prescriptive literatures to disentangle risk assessment. First, we find that effective and legitimate public involvement is dependent upon the degree to which value-judgements are acknowledged in the different components of risk assessment. Second, we explore variations in the prescription literatures of the United States National Research Council and the Codex Alimentarius Commission. Third, we examine the way in which risk assessment is disentangled in practice through the case study of the European Food Safety Authority. Finally, we draw on these findings to reassemble public involvement in risk assessment, making clear who should be involved, where and, importantly, why.

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